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Five minute profile: interview with David Jack

Casual headshot of David Jack in the upper levels of a stadium.
Five minute profiles

Research Data Scotland

17 Apr 2023

Our interview series shines a light on what it’s like to work at RDS. Meet David Jack, Research Data Scotland Data Acquisition/Sourcing Manager.

What’s your role at RDS and what are you working on?  

I am the Data Acquisition/Sourcing Manager and I joined Research Data Scotland (RDS) in January 2022. I’m involved in a range of data-related projects at present, including leading a piece of work to develop a new linked business data asset and developing our plans to work with partners to source datasets which meet researcher demand. As part of this, I am looking at the technical processes which underpin how data is made available for research, whilst keeping it safe and secure. 

I’m also involved in looking at how improvements can be made to the end-to-end user-journey through the Researcher Access Service, with a particular focus on developing a new governance pathway to support simpler and quicker access to data for research in the public good.

What does your typical workday involve?  

No two days are the same and I put a lot of emphasis on being as organised and as efficient as possible with my time. This is particularly important for me because with RDS support, I have been able to take up a fantastic new opportunity and spend half of my working time on secondment at the University of Strathclyde's Fraser of Allander Institute (FAI). Since the start of 2023, I have been working as a Knowledge Exchange Fellow/Statistician at the FAI, where I am contributing to a programme of research looking at the barriers and opportunities for people with learning disabilities in Scotland. 

I therefore feel I have a nice blend of responsibility across my two roles with a genuine prospect of making a real difference - not just by playing an important role in RDS by meeting our objective to further unlock public sector data and enhance the conditions for collaborative data-driven research, but also through my own research efforts to help support and empower people with learning disabilities in Scotland.  

“Since the start of 2023, I have been working as a Knowledge Exchange Fellow/Statistician at the FAI, where I am contributing to a programme of research looking at the barriers and opportunities for people with learning disabilities in Scotland.”

David Jack

What’s your background and how does it give you additional insight to your work at RDS?  

I have a Mathematics degree and Open University diploma in Statistics. Prior to joining RDS, I worked in a range of analytical positions across the public sector, primarily as a statistician. This included several posts within the Scottish Government where I gained experience in understanding the evidence requirements for policy development and I had leading roles in the production of official and National Statistics. 

During my five years working at Skills Development Scotland, I contributed to numerous data improvement projects and managed both academic and consultancy led research to support key sectors across Scotland. I’ve also worked at the Scottish Fiscal Commission where I was part of a team producing independent economic and fiscal forecasts to accompany the Scottish Government’s Budget cycle. This organisation was still relatively new during my time in post and therefore helped me with what to expect when moving to a young organisation like RDS.  

What’s a highlight and a challenge of working with data?    

The highlight must be the simple fact that effective use of data can improve people’s lives. Therefore, I am very passionate about maximising the utility of data through secure research and analysis to establish robust insights which inform better decision making. 

To be able to do this routinely and successfully there are many challenges to overcome. One that is particularly relevant to my role is being able to understand and manage the demand for different datasets to be made available for research. There are a multitude of factors to consider, and it is vitally important that we gather the right information on the demand and potential supply (through data acquisition/sourcing) to ensure we prioritise accordingly. 

“The highlight must be the simple fact that effective use of data can improve people’s lives.”

David Jack

What difference do you hope RDS will make?   

I know we have many valuable data assets in Scotland because I’ve had the privilege of working on some of these during my career to date. This has included being involved in data collection and quality assurance activities, and I therefore know first-hand how much time and effort goes into actually bringing a dataset together. 

I hope that RDS will make a positive difference by ensuring that this effort continues to pay-off as we look to boost scalability with more research projects being able to securely utilise the great data that we have in Scotland.  

Who, real-life or public figure, has inspired or motivated you in your career or life?   

I am struggling to choose between two. I’ve always felt a sense of being able to relate to the wise words of Professor Sir Harry Burns and been inspired by his work to address health inequalities. 

Like Sir Harry Burns, the other person who has provided motivation throughout my career was also a Professor of Global/International Health, before he sadly passed away in 2017. I have been lucky enough to be part of an audience who were entertained by Hans Rosling as he brought global trends in health and economics to life in his own unique way. This included having an opportunity to speak to him at the Edinburgh International Science Festival in 2013 where he underlined how statistics can lead to informed and positive change by providing real insight into many of life’s greatest challenges. 

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